Friday, September 12, 2014

That's What Friends Are For

Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief
Saying, "Tell me great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?" - "Tombstone Blues", Bob Dylan, 1965

Keep smiling, keep shining
Knowing you can always count on me, for sure
That's what friends are for
For good times and bad times
I'll be on your side forever more
That's what friends are for   - "That's What Friends Are For", Bacharach and Bayer Sager, 1982

Police Discreetly On Patrol at Strawberry Fields 9-10-14
It was like something out of a Ruth Rendell novel. Or perhaps, being in New York, out of a Patricia Highsmith novel.

The take-out  leftovers were piling up in my kitchen.  Bits of quesadillas, beef sandwiches, rice-puddings liquefied and bleeding into half eaten bagels. Revolting. The pile grew higher and higher.

It was the Labor Day weekend, and all my good friends were out of town, interstate, or in Australia.  I was very ill with  severe bronchitis and just had to wait it out. I was existing on food I had ordered in. I couldn't even make it to the compacter room to throw out the mounting pile of garbage.

I emailed my kids, telling them where my will was, and about sundry bank accounts. I was as cold as ice.

When I went to the bathroom I took my cell phone with me, worried should I pass out. And also in the misguided hope that someone in New York would call. Silence. 

I lived like that for five whole days and nights - not seeing a living soul. But thanks to email and Facebook I was not completely incommunicado. Thank you A, E, J and B. You helped me pull through. And of course thank you to the "Seamless" app, and to the delivery guys who brought me my food.

It made me wonder. What was I doing here in the  Big Apple?

When the chips are down, well - the chips are down.

But of course it is not all bad, and this week I smiled, as I was riding the Q60 bus home from work. on the 13th anniversary of 9-11. As the bus was crossing the Ed Koch  Bridge I looked out to my left at our  Freedom Tower. The way the setting sun struck it, it seemed as if something was sticking out if it.

"Look," I interrupted my companion who was in full-flight talking about his day, "there is something sticking out of the Freedom Tower!"  He glanced briefly across the river. "Oh don't worry about it," he answered before continuing with his  New York style monologue. "It is probably just a plane."

From My Office Window 9-11-2001
I just love the New York humor. The five horrible days forgotten, I posted on Facebook about it.  And also this photo on the left, taken from my office window on 9-11.

Now one would think - me being a New Yorker and all - that would be that. And it was, for a while. "I didn't realize you were so close," commented one friend. "Wow!" said another.

But then came what I should have expected - the anti-American crap. "What about Allende and Chile? They had a 9-11 too."

As my good friend A replied, "To bring up another event is like going to someone's funeral and going on and on about another death. Just not done in polite company".

Those PC people. Blinkered. It's like you can't say anything about radical Muslims without the bleating of, "There are bad Jews and Christians as well."

Oh sure! Whatever. We all know that not all Muslims are terrorists. But it just so happens, that most  21st century terrorists are Muslim. And in any case I had not even mentioned Muslims - just posted about it being 9-11. But the mere mention of 9-11 is enough to set some people off.

Dredging up the past. Going back over a thousand years to minimize an event that affected me and millions of other New Yorkers.

On and on. You even get,  "What about the Crusades?"

Seriously? What about them?  Let's dredge up Robin Hood? Or Tutankhamen?

Yeah, what about Chile forty years ago, and the Crusades nearly a thousand years ago?  And yes, Israelis shouldn't throw Palestinians and out of their homes on the West Bank. And the British killed the aborigines in Tasmania. And the mid nineteenth century potato famine in Ireland. My god!

But none of this has anything to do with the slaughter of my fellow countrymen in my city on 9-11-2001.

Lest we forget.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What a Wonderful World

But I do know, one and one is two
And if this one could be with you
What a wonderful world this would be - "Wonderful World", Sam Cooke 1960
I hear babies cryin'.
I watch them grow.
They'll learn much more than I'll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world - "What a Wonderful World", Thiele and Weiss 1967
Child Being Tagged by OZ Immigration
Photo courtesy Asylum Seeker Resource Center
In the beautiful Indonesian island of Bali, children are named according to their birth order. The firstborn is "Wayan", the second is "Made" pronounced Marday, the third is "Nyoman", and the fourth is "Ketut". And if a couple has more than four children, well they just start again from the beginning.

I used to vacation at Bali in the 1980s, and remember a German couple, commenting to a Balinese woman who was explaining the practice,  "We don't give our children numbers in Germany."

Back in Melbourne I related the Germans' comment to my mother, who answered in her typical caustic style, "Oh really? Haven't they heard of Auschwitch?" Sitting in her North Brighton flat, we sneered at the sneering German couple.

My mother has long "gone to god", and I am glad she didn't live to see the day when the Australian government started to "number" children. Dehumanizing them. Locking them up.

In its paranoia about a few hundred "boat children" - refugees mainly from Sri Lanka, Iraq and Afghanistan- the Australian  government has a policy of not allowing asylum seekers even to step foot on mainland Australian soil.

After  horrific journeys across the Indian Ocean,  the over-crowded and unsafe ships carrying them are intercepted. The would-be immigrants are tagged,  numbered and "processed" off-shore.  Sent off to camps.

Down Town Manhattan,  May Day 2010
Less than 20,000 "boat people" arrive in Australia every year (Ten myths around asylum seekers arriving on boats in Australian waters ).  Less than a quarter of the audience capacity at Melbourne's main sporting venue, the MCG

Of course the majority of  Australia's "illegal immigrants" are white, European and arrive by plane.

In America we refer refugees who haven't been "processed" as "undocumented immigrants". In many states undocumented immigrants are able to  hold drivers' licenses, attend university, get jobs.

In 2010 there was a furor when the State of Arizona passed a bill allowing police to ask people for their papers if they suspected them of being illegal immigrants. 

After the "Reform Immigration" demo, NYC May 2010
I went along to the New York City demo protesting the Arizona bill. I think there were more people demonstrating across America, than the total of "boat people" trying to get into Australia in one year.

Ironically, modern-day Australia was founded by "boat people". They came from the United Kingdom and they booted out or murdered the indigenous inhabitants.  At first most arrivals were criminals, and later there were economic refugees from rural England and Ireland.  So soon we humans forget...

I know many Australians object to the new boat people who live in detention centres off-shore - yes the Australian government outsources detention centers - as queue jumpers.

I have only one thing to say to such people.

What bloody queue?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Basket Case

In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking
Now heaven knows,
anything goes - from "Anything Goes", Cole Porter 1934

Watch a horror movie right there on my TV
Horror movie right there on my TV
Horror movie right there on my TV
Shockin' me right out of my brain
Shockin' me right out of my brain - from "Horror Movie", Skyhook 1975

The MacRob Girl
In the olden days when I was a young girl in Australia, I was a goodie-goodie. Otherwise known as a "conch" - an Aussie slang term (derogatory) of the time - short I suppose for conscientious.

Me and my friend Di spent our free time studying, or singing in Latin  in the school choir. When there were interschool sporting events that we were forced to attend, we didn't jump up and scream for our team to win.

We sat around looking bored.

We were pre-cool.

We didn't socialize with the girls who went out with boys, or with the ones who hid true romance novels under their desks.

Instead we worshiped Audrey Hepburn, high marks, and read all our Stendhal in French.

We were always quiet and attentive in class. Sat up straight. Good girls.

We were, I suspect, quite obnoxious.

And so it was with some surprise, a hundred years later, that I discovered that I was, deep down, a "naughty girl". No conch. Au contraire - a born-again brat. A bad influence. A juvenile delinquent.

An outcast, I have been thrown out of, of all things - a knitting club! Expelled, unceremoniously, with no explanation, no right of reply. Done!

Of course it wasn't a real knitting club. It was a virtual one. On Facebook. But I did knit. And with real wool.

I am not quite sure why I was cast off so to speak. I THINK it had something to do with me posting that I had come across some ambiguous instructions in a Canadian knitting pattern and what did people think?  Was it my referencing the nationality of the pattern designer? Or was it the use of the word "ambiguous"? I suppose I will never know.

What I HAVE learnt however, is what it feels like to be "IN TROUBLE"! Write down one hundred times, "I will not criticize pattern instructions." Off to the head mistress's office. Detention for a week.

I cast my mind back to those halcyon days at Mac.Robertson Girls' High School. Me and Di, sneering at those lesser beings - the sporty girls playing womens' rugby, or the flirty ones tissying-up  their hair for Saturday night's rock dance at the Malvern Town Hall. Comparing our test scores, each of us trying to outdo the other.

Maybe, just maybe, all that time there was a bad girl trying to get out. And all it took was a bunch of knitting ladies and a Canadian knitting pattern.

Meanwhile I must put in a plug for a friend, Daniel Armstrong, of Australia's Strongman Pictures, who, showing great foresight, chose - even BEFORE I was kicked out of the knitting club, to set his next horror movie in ... a knitting club.

Watch out for it!!! After all, it comes strongly recommended by an ex MacRob girl!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

I Read The News Today Oh Boy

I'm Jumpin' Jack Flash, it's a gas, gas, gas
I was raised by a toothless, bearded hag
I was schooled with a strap right across my back
But it's all right now, in fact it's a gas - "Jumping Jack Flash", The Stones 1968
I read the news today oh boy
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
And though the holes were rather small
They had to count them all - "A Day In The Life", Lennon-McCartney 1967

I was leaving for work. About to walk to the bus stop on Second Avenue just down from 93rd Street. People were gathered, bunched together, and looking up up up into the sky. Like people in a Superman comic strip. I recognized one of our doormen in the crowd.

"What's going on?" I asked. He told me a man was threatening to jump. I followed the gazes of the huddled New Yorkers. And saw him. On the ledge of the fortieth floor of the skyscraper opposite. Saw him jump.

He seemed to take forever, arms flailing, body turning, as he sailed down. I remembered seeing people jumping from the World Trade Center Towers on 9/11. But on the television screen. Falling people,  filmed against that bright blue New York September sky. But this time I there was no TV screen between me and the man as I watched him fall in real-time.

I could see his clothes, his hair, his shoes. I stood transfixed, and turned away just had there was a loud thud as he hit the ground.

People have been edgy here in New York. It's the news;  the same for everyone throughout the world. Gaza, Israel, ISIS, Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, the Ukraine. The tens of thousands of children on the US side of the Texas border with Mexico,  trying to stay in America, making their way here on the top of freight trains, across rivers, dodging drug dealers' bullets. Tended to by good Samaritans, and entitled to their "day in court".  Some will stay.  Until then they are "undocumented immigrants".

Meanwhile our Australian government is freaking out about 157 Tamil asylum seekers who tried to get to Australia by boat - asking India to take them!  You've gotta be kidding! How many people are there in India and how few people live in Australia?

I try to take my mind off it all and to do something frivolous. But it is something almost obscene in light of world events. I decide to buy a "little black handbag". I  google images and eventually find one I like. 

Proenza-Schouler Bl;ack Bag $1,600
I post it on Facebook.

The Princess answers, "That's not a little black bag... That's a bloody suitcase lololol."

Which gets me wondering. All my New York friends (all four of them!) have big handbags. All New York women have them. I check them out on the Streets of Manhattan. Yep, I'm right.

Reading the New York Times online I see that Bill Cunningham - New York's  fashion street photographer proves me right.

Here are some of those big-bag carrying women of New York. Look at them. And if you can, forget what has been a horrifying July 2014.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Feisty Women of New York

I sit here by myself
And you know I love it
You know I don't want someone
To come pay a visit I wanna be by myself
I came in this world alone
Me myself I - "Me Myself I", Joan Armatrading 1980

Keep smiling and keep shining
Knowing you can always count on me, for sure
That's what friends are for - "That's What Friends Are For", Bacharach and Bayer Sager 1982

Orchid Selfie, Manhattan
I have seen her on the bus nearly every work-day morning for over ten years now. She's overweight, plain, fiftyish, and is either student or staff at La Guardia Community College.

She wears ill-fitting black trackie pants and a no-color darkish top. Every day.

Actually I see her on two buses. The first the M15 - the Second Avenue downtown one, and then the Q60 that goes over Ed Koch Bridge to Queens. We never speak.

This is unusual. Normally take any opportunity to talk to any sort of neighbor - be it bus, subway, or apartment.

I don't like her and I suppose she doesn't like me either. But it's so weird that we never even acknowledge each other. It is too late now; it has gone on too long.

Last Sunday I saw her. I've only ever seen her on a bus on a week-day. She was sitting in the window seat of a diner, wearing a sparkly tiara. I was walking past and did a double-take. I walked back to make sure. And it was indeed her. Sitting in the diner wearing a tiara and a white tutu taffeta fairy dress. Confident. Sitting there for all the world to see as if it is a perfectly normal thing to do. True dinks.

Just goes to show. She's probably one of them. One of the feisty women of New York.

I had my first encounter with a feisty woman of New York on day three of my first job here. A co-worker took me to the closest coffee shop. She ordered a latte. "Do you want skinny milk with that?" the barista asked. "Do you think I look fat? No need to be rude," she shrieked.

Angie in HBO's "Girls" is a perfect example of feisty. Defending her girlfriend - non-pregnant Natalia -  to Adam who has dumped her. To everyone in a coffee shop. Yelling for all to hear " Guess what she’s pregnant. She’s pregnant with your child. What you put in her, it made a baby in her and now she’s pregnant. How does it feel to abandon your son? Yeah, feel it."

And a friend of mine. On the phone. A monologue. Starting with. "You know those plastic knives you get when you order in food? Well I'd like to get one and stab him through the heart. Right through his effing heart. And then I'd turn it. Slowly. Yes that's what I wanna do. Stab him through his heart. You hear me. Right through his heart."

I put her on speaker and took up my knitting. Like a spectator at the guillotine in 17 whatever, when the French had a revolution and women watched people being guillotined outside the Bastille. I didn't answer. I didn't even ask who it was that she was talking about. Not necessary.  To listen and speak not. That's what friends are for.

Another friend. Times Square, after a  Broadway show. On our way to our bus stop; we were passing a tacky tourist store. I'd been wanting to get a replica of the Statue of Liberty for my three year old grandson. He thinks she - Lady Liberty - is the "Salt Ghost".  "Whoo whoo," he spooks other kids in rural Australia. "The Salt Ghost is coming!". Nothing wrong with MY family...

Anyway, there I was in Times Square. It was a chance for me to buy a trashy piece of tourist junk. It isn't often I pass a store with Statue of Liberty replicas on sale. " Hang on," I tell my friend -  the one I'd just been to the show with, "I'll just duck in here for a sec. There's something I want to buy." "No time for that!" she commanded. "Do it another time. I want to get the bus home!"

Chastened I obliged. One does not contradict a feisty New York woman.

A few month ago, an acquaintance died of cancer. I didn't know her well, and I read news of her death on Facebook. It was entirely unexpected. Lung cancer. Fortunately she hadn't suffered long.

I called a mutual acquaintance to tell her the sad news. "Sarah died," I said. A second's silence while she took it in.

And then the reply, "Stupid bitch!"

Followed by a litany of silly things that Sarah had done in her fifty years on this earth.

I can only count my blessings that I wont be around when she hears that I have kicked the proverbial bucket.

The feisty women of New York. Gotta love  'em!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Decal

Old man take a look at my life
I'm a lot like you
I need someone to love me the whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes and you can tell that's true. - "Old Man".  Neil Young 1972
Defining moments. Those moments you remember forever, moments which define a transition in one's life as surely as they do in some news stories, films and novels.

When Mr Darcy proposes to Elizabeth Bennett
When Lady Macbeth first washes her hands of her king's blood
When (for those of us who are old enough to remember) John F Kennedy was shot
When (and more of us will remember this) when the Berlin wall went down

Mother and Son, Rotorua 1983
But I'm more interested in those defining moments that do not signify an event that causes a change in world affairs, or the turn of a novel's plot. I'm interested in those remembered events that mark a change in ones life - signifying the beginning of something new, a different phase, a subtle event perhaps unnoticed by many, but signifying something ...

The moment, perhaps lasting only a second or less, when it finally hit me that my mother's cancer had spread. "Today when I went to the fridge, I could't pick up an egg," she told me over the phone, 12,000 miles away.

The last time I played hopscotch. I knew it was the last time, at the time. "This is the end of my childhood", I thought as I turned on the two top chalked squares, "7 8" to commence my journey into adulthood.

A Melbourne tram conductor singing "Love Love Me Do!" in September 1964; signifying the moment when the world turned to color from black and white.

I wonder, are such moments hooks on which to hang the 'dividers' of our life? Anything before that hopscotch game equals childhood, everything after equals adulthood? Or are they more than reference points, rather times of realisation that life is forever changed.

Not all such moments concern oneself. They be another person's realisation, acknowledgement, or acceptance of a life change.

Father and Daughter, Melbourne 1967
One of my sadder memory moments occurred in New Zealand in 1983. I'd gone there with my boyfriend of the time, to see my father. We'd not spent much of our lives together, my father and I. My parents separated constantly from the day of my birth till when I was thirteen. From thirteen on the split was permanent and my father eventually moved to New Zealand. From then on our meetings were infrequent. In fifteen years I maybe saw him five times.

Somehow in 1983 I learned he was unwell, perhaps he had not much time to live. I had just started a new job in Melbourne and could only take one week off. But one week is better than nothing, and so tickets were bought and off we set, Robert, myself and my seven year old son.

It turned out to be not so bad a trip, in as much as a trip to see one's estranged and dying father can be 'not so bad'. Bill had stopped working, could not walk very far, and throat cancer had almost completely taken his voice. He was living in a caravan (trailer) behind the Princes Gate Hotel courtesy of the then owners. You can actually see this caravan in the movie Sleeping Dogs where he had a minor role. He and Sam Neil have a drunken scene in the caravan, and I believe little acting was required of Bill for this cameo...

Father and Daughter, Rotorua 1983
Bill was poor, having never saved a cent in his life. But he had an old Hillman Imp. Cars were costly back then in NZ and so owning a car was something for him to be proud of. And it came in useful. The four of us would set out every morning, to tour of the Rotoruan countryside.

Bill loved the old Hillman. To us, Peugeot owners from OZ, it was a bit of a joke. But to Bill, it meant a lot. And as he could no longer drive it, the day trips with his daughter and grandson and defacto son-in-law were important, both in themselves and as a change in the monotonous life of a lonely invalid.

On day seven, arriving back from the last of our excursions, when I slammed the passenger door shut, the Hillman's decal fell to the ground. Bill looked at it anxiously, and unable to bend down, pointed it out to me. I went to pick it up, wondering how I'd attach it back. I hesitated. He looked at me, then back at the decal. "It doesn't matter does it?" he said. I knew what he meant. The Hillman would never be driven again in his lifetime. From that instant on, we both knew he'd entered the dying phase. He died five months later.

And that's what I remember. It isn't all that I remember from that seven-day trip. But it is the event of significance. And in that one event is held all the poignancy of discovering, and saying goodbye to, my dad.